The Abomination of Desolation and Daniel’s 70-Weeks Prophecy

In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus is recorded as saying:

15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Matthew 24:15-16 NASB

Proponents of dispensational, futurist eschatology have long understood this to be referring to a time in our future when an evil figure known as the “antichrist” would enter a future 3rd Jewish temple in Jerusalem and perform some kind of idolatrous, abominable act or sacrifice.  This paper presents an alternative to this popular interpretation.  

The Antichrist Association

By “the antichrist association” I don’t mean some kind of demonic fan club.  Rather, I contest the association of an antichrist figure with this text in the Olivet Discourse.  I first must challenge the inference (completely missing from the text) of a future antichrist figure being involved here.  There is no textual reason to make this association.  Further, “antichrist” only appears in the epistles of 1 and 2 John, where it is defined as follows:

For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. 2 John 1:7

The ONLY biblical definition of antichrist is that anyone who teaches that Jesus Christ did not have a real, flesh-and-blood body is a “deceiver and the antichrist.” This was John in opposition to the Gnostic teaching that Jesus was a spiritual being only.  

It may surprise you, but the only biblical references to the antichrist are in the epistles of John (1 John 2:18, 2:22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7) not in Revelation, not in the Olivet Discourse, not in Thessalonians, or Daniel, or Ezekiel or any of the other texts futurists like to find the antichrist in.   Taking John’s narrow definition of antichrist into account, there is absolutely no justification for the fanciful creation of an evil figure that sometime in our future will seek to take over the world and associate him with the beast of Revelation and the Man of Lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians. 

Jesus’ Reference to Daniel and the 70 Weeks Prophecy

In Matthew 25:15, Jesus says, “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand)…

Daniel mentions the “abomination of desolation” in three places; Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11. 

Daniel 9:24-27 is what is commonly known as the “70 Weeks Prophecy”. 

Some background: 

In 586BC Daniel and the Jews were in Babylonian captivity after Jerusalem and the first Temple had been destroyed.   Then, the Persians conquered Babylon in 539BC.  At this point, things looked pretty hopeless for the Jews in Persian captivity.  There was no sign that Jerusalem or the temple could be rebuilt.  But then the angel Gabriel appears to Daniel and gives him a message in a vision.  Here’s how it begins in verse 24 of Daniel 9:

24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.

This is a most remarkable statement!  Daniel and the Jews are being held captive in Babylon/Persia after their holy city (Jerusalem) and their Temple’s destruction, yet the angel’s vision speaks as if the city was again established.  Furthermore, the people and city of Jerusalem are to in some way bring about;  “an end of sin”, “to make atonement for iniquity”, “to bring in everlasting righteousness”, “to seal up vision and prophecy” and “to anoint the most holy place”.  Not only is this visionary prophecy far-fetched, but the angel also places it on a timeline – “seventy weeks have been decreed…”

In Old Testament prophetic language, days or weeks often equate to years.  In this case, think of 70 weeks of years, or 490 years. (70 weeks of years X 7 = 490 years)

Two examples:

Lev. 25:8 ‘And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years.

 Num. 14:33-34 33 And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. 34According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years,

The vision continues in Daniel 9 verse 25:

25So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;

The angel tells Daniel that a decree will be issued to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, and from the time of that decree until the coming of the Messiah will be “7 weeks and sixty-two weeks”.   

This is a prophecy of the first coming of Jesus, the Messiah.

Let’s do the math:

7 + 62 weeks = 69 weeks of years

        69 weeks of years x 7 = 483 years

Artaxerxes’ Decree and the Coming Messiah

In 457BC, Artaxerxes, King of Persia decreed that the Jews could rebuild Jerusalem & the temple. (see Ezra 7:12-26)  So, 457BC marks the beginning of the first week of years in the 70 Weeks prophecy.  

Historians generally agree that Jesus was born in 4BC.  But if we subtract 4BC from 457BC we get 453 years, not 483 years.  We’re off by 30 years. What gives?  Well, if we recognize that Jesus began his public ministry at age 30, at his baptism, when the voice from heaven identified him with, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” we account for the missing 30 years, which is exactly 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.  All 69 weeks of years are accounted for.  But what about week 70?  Let’s first look at the next verse in Daniel’s visionary prophecy.

26 Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. Daniel 9:26

The vision had combined the first 7 weeks with 62 weeks to bring us to the time Jesus began his public ministry at age 30. (@AD26-27)  Verse 26 says first that sometime after this, the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing.  This sounds like the crucifixion to me.  Also sometime after this the city and the sanctuary (Temple) will be destroyed.  We know that to have happened in AD70.  Continuing with verse 27:

27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; 

Now we’re in week 70 of Daniel’s prophetic vision.  Jesus’ public ministry begins at the beginning of week 70 and continues for about 3-1/2 years (until the “middle of the week”).  

What happened at this point?  Jesus was crucified, which “put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering”.  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. Hebrews 7:26-27

…but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. Hebrews 9:26

When Jesus offered himself up he established a new covenant in his own blood, he put an end to the Old Covenant sacrificial system, made the Temple obsolete and became the new Temple where sacrifice for sin is no longer needed!

The phrase “and he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week” could be better translated “once for all”, i.e. “and he will make a firm covenant with the many once for all”.

Now, futurists do something very strange with Daniel’s 70-weeks timeline.  They remove week 70 from the other 69 and place it sometime in our future and label it “the tribulation”.   Their reasoning hinges on verse 27 of Daniel 9 – the same verse that we’ve just seen as referring to the amazing, world-changing events of Jesus’ own life and saving death.  Here’s how they do it.  

They change the “he” of verse 27 from referring to Jesus to the antichrist!  Like this:

“And he [the antichrist] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he [the antichrist] will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering…”

Futurists amputate week 70 from Daniel’s prophetic vision, project it out into the far-distant future, import an antichrist figure into it that is supposed to enter a newly built Jewish Temple where blood sacrifices are happening and commit “the abomination of desolation”, ending the practice of sacrifice.   This is all supposed to happen 3-1/2 years into a 7-year period of tribulation that they extract from Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, which Jesus said twice would happen in the generation of those who were living in the first century, and which actually did happen in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.  As we’ve already seen, the wholesale construction of an evil antichrist in this way has no biblical or exegetical justification. 

Now, to the remainder of verse 27 in Daniel 9.

Abominations of Desolation

…and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” Daniel 9:27

Jesus made reference to this in the Olivet Discourse:  

15 “Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Matthew 24:15-16 NASB

What could this mean in the context of the first century city of Jerusalem and its Temple?  Luke’s parallel account of the Olivet Discourse adds some clarity:

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.”  Luke 21:20

Luke gives some clarifying “when & where” details:    

When you (the disciples) see armies surrounding Jerusalem.

Where = All of Jerusalem, not just the temple is surrounded and involved.  (recognize that HER (Jerusalem’s) desolation is near.

In Matt. 24:15, Jesus spoke of the abomination of desolation “standing in the holy place”.

“holy place” = “hagios topos” in Greek.  Hagios=holy, and topos=location. (topography)

Hagios topos never in the NT refers to a building, but to a geographic location.

Hence, all of Jerusalem is “the Holy Place”, “The Holy City”, “The Holy Mountain” etc.

There are many theories as to what the abomination of desolation might be.  I’m not sure we need to pin it down to one particular event, for instance, pagan armies surrounding Jerusalem would have been an abomination to the Jews, but what is an “abomination”?  In the Old Testament, abominations were often related to idol worship.  The Romans were idol worshipers, worshiping eagles and effigies of their emperors. This was certainly distasteful to the Jews, but was that the only idol worship going on in Jerusalem at the time?  No. I believe that the most egregious form of idol worship that was going on in Jerusalem was the continued offering of sacrifices in the Temple after Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the grave.  The Old Covenant sacrificial order was now obsolete and done away with.  For some Jews to continue offering blood sacrifices was to construct an idol that was an abomination to the Savior of their souls.  It was to reject the life-giving, self-sacrificial offering of God by clinging to the idea that righteousness could be attained by observance of the sacrificial system which Jesus repeatedly overturned by saying “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Jesus came to his own, but his own received him not.  But more than this, they rejected his free gift of grace and clung to their worship of a now idolatrous religious system than only glorified death, not life.  This abomination resulted in the prophesied desolation of both their city and Temple.  Keeping this in mind, Daniel gives us more clarity in Daniel chapter 12.

More Clarity From Daniel  

"From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days.  Daniel 12:11

Here, Daniel in another vision ties the end of the regular practice of sacrifice to the resulting abomination of desolation, and again, a timeline is given – 1290 days.  1290 days = 3 years and 7 months (30-day months).  During the reign of Nero, the corruption of the sacrificial temple system had become so great that not only were the regular Old Covenant sacrifices taking place, but regular sacrifices to Nero were also taking place in the Temple!  

In February of AD67 war breaks out between the Jews and the Romans, and about this time the regular practice of sacrifice in the Temple ends.  The war wages until finally the walls of Jerusalem are breached, and in August of AD70 the Temple was burned by the Romans under the leadership of Titus- 3 years and 6 months, 1260 days after the regular practice of sacrifice ended in the Temple.  All the abominations, the idolatrous practice of Old Covenant sacrifices, the sacrifices to Nero, the Roman soldiers desecrating the holy city and the Temple ended in the Temple’s desolation in August of AD70.  Titus ordered the rampant killing of Jews in Jerusalem to stop 30 days later in September of AD70, fulfilling the 1290 day timeline of Daniel 12:11.

Another 45 Days

    How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!  Daniel 12:13

Daniel then adds 45 more days to the 1290 we just detailed.  What is this about? 

For 45 more days, the Romans gathered and categorized the surviving Jews:

    -11,000 unhealthy ones were allowed to starve to death.

    -The tall, young ones were paraded as captives-spoils of war.

-97,000 older healthy ones were sent to Egyptian mines or back to Rome to be used in the theaters as macabre entertainment while they were being killed. 

This completed the 1335 days: (Dan. 12:11-12)

1260 days from the time the regular sacrifice was abolished ‘till the Temple was burned.

1290 days ‘till the wholesale killing stopped.

1335 days ‘till the survivors were sorted and led away captive.        

Then, late in AD70 & AD71 The Temple was dismantled, stone by stone just as Jesus had predicted in Matt. 24:2

And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you,  

not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down."

Back to Week #70

We left off 1/2 way through week 70 of Daniel’s prophecy with Jesus being crucified about 3-1/2 years after he began his ministry.  What about the remaining 3-1/2 years of week 70?

Gary DeMar, in his book, “Last Days Madness” writes the following:

“Stephen was probably martyred the same year Jesus was crucified and Paul was converted.  Paul writes in Galatians 1:18 that he met with Peter “three years later” in Jerusalem “to become acquainted with Cephas.”  It was at this same time that Peter was given instructions that the gospel was to go to the Gentiles (Acts 10-11).  This means that Paul’s meeting with Peter and Peter’s instructions concerning the Gentiles occurred 3.5 years after the crucifixion, marking the end of the seventy weeks “for Israel.”  This has been the standard interpretation for centuries, except for minor differences in details.  John Nelson Darby and others changed all this with their church-parenthesis hypothesis.  In the Darbyite, and now the dispensational scheme of things, the seventieth week does not follow immediately after the sixty-ninth week.” 

DeMar goes on to say that, “Probably no single prophetic utterance is more crucial in the fields of Biblical Interpretation, Apologetics, and Eschatology than the seventy-weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27.  If the gap theory cannot be proved from study of this messianic prophecy, then there is no validity to dispensationalism, and the entire end-time system called dispensationalism must be rejected.”

Conclusion

I believe that the historic position of the church, that the 70th week of Daniel’s prophecy was contiguous with the other 69 weeks, and was fulfilled in the lifetime of the early church, and that Jesus’ reference to the Abomination of Desolation, being part of the Olivet Discourse found its fulfillment in the years up to and including AD70. 

It is my sincere hope that more people who have not heard this good news, and have adopted the fear-driven speculations of futurist dispensationalism may find solace and peace in the realization that, while we may face tribulations in the future, the Great Tribulation spoken of by Jesus is well behind us.  May we get on with living the Jesus way in our various spheres of influence.